Oxford ITE Conference talk

Teacher Supply: Crisis, challenge or no problem?

1 Overview

1.1 Over the past half century teacher supply has been through a number of different cycles during which there have been short periods of over-supply interspersed with longer periods of shortages. Within these macro cycles there have been other periods where particular subjects or parts of the country have been affected by more local supply problems.

1.2 Since 2013, the recruitment into teacher preparation courses has become more challenging as numbers enrolled have declined. This would likely have been the case despite the fact that this period also witnessed a shift towards a more school-led approach to teacher preparation programmes. The development of new programmes has been a feature of periods of teacher shortage from the Articled Teacher scheme of the late 1980s through the SCITTS of the 1990s to the GTTP and Teach First of the early years of this century and now the school-Direct   programmes.

1.3 With a significant increase in pupil numbers over the next few years it seems likely that staffing schools will become a serious problem over the next few years. We will know more on Thursday when the 2015 ITE Census is published by the DfE. I expect some improvement over last year as a result of the better marketing campaigns, but still insufficient new entrants in many subjects to meet the Teacher Supply Model numbers that historically have been seen as targets. The NCTL allocations merely blur the understanding of numbers needed, but may have helped keep higher education alive in teacher preparation. Without such over-allocation against the TSM in 2014, as I pointed out to the Minister, the loss of most English and history places from higher education would have made many more vice-chancellors question the viability of their PGCE courses.

2 Introduction

2.1 The debate about whether or not there an issue in teacher supply at the present can really only be answered in terms of what it is the school system is trying to achieve? If it is to provide the highest quality education to all pupils in order to ensure that they are able to achieve the highest possible personal outcomes from schooling, then the part teachers’ play in achieving this outcome needs to be determined. Without agreed goals for the school system it is difficult to assess whether or not there is a teacher shortage at the present time.

 2.2 Crisis or Challenge?

2.2.1 There is no current definition of when a shortage of teachers or trainees might be described as either a challenge or a crisis. This lack of any benchmark has allowed language to be used in a casual and imprecise manner. In an attempt to inject some clarity into the debate, some suggested definitions are offered for both recruitment into teacher preparation programmes and for recruitment into main-scale teaching positions for classroom teachers.

2.3 Entry into preparation programmes

2.3.1 A “challenge” to the system might be described as a situation where more than 60% of applicants are offered places on preparation courses: such a figure demonstrates that there is little competition to enter the profession. A lack of competition means there is no incentive to create minimum benchmarks for entry in areas such as extent of subject knowledge or experience beyond schooling and university education.

2.3.2 A “crisis” might arise when, despite offering more than 60% of applicants places on teacher preparation courses, there are still insufficient applicants to fill all the places on offer over a two-year period. (This avoids issues over a shortfall in one year due to unforeseen events).

2.3.3 On this basis some subjects may be facing challenges and, possibly, a few are in crisis.

2.4 Entry level vacancies

2.4.1 There are no current descriptors for how to measure either a challenge or a crisis in recruitment at the level of entry grade employment in teaching.

2.4.2 A challenge might be described as a situation where there are sufficient entrants to teaching from all sources, but, because they are not distributed according to need across the country, some schools are forced to employ candidates without the skills or subject knowledge required to fully undertake the role for which they have been recruited. This could be the consequence of a shortfall in entry into training when there are insufficient other teachers available to make up that shortfall.

2.4.3 For this challenge to become a crisis, there would need to be insufficient entrants to the profession from all routes to reduce the percentage of teachers 1) with no relevant post ‘A’ level qualification teaching the subject in a secondary school, or 2) no training in the phase of primary education they are teaching (again over a two year period). The crisis could be limited to specific parts of the curriculum.

2.4.4 It seems likely that an analysis of the 2012-2014 School Workforce Census data may reveal a number of subjects where this definition of a crisis is met. It is not clear whether the DfE has the data to identify whether there is a crisis in our primary schools.

2.4.5 However, another way to consider the issue is to look further at three areas of teacher supply where the terms crisis or challenge may be used.–

  • crisis of numbers,– There needs to be enough teachers
  • crisis of location – they need to be in the right place and–
  • crisis of quality – they need to be good enough.

The issue of numbers can be further sub-divided into numbers in training, and numbers in the profession, as already discussed. A shortfall in training numbers will create a shortage in the profession, which will become compounded if the problem lasts for several years and will lead to problems with middle leadership after about 5-10 years.

2.5 Crisis of numbers.

2.5.1 In order to have enough teachers, we need to train enough in each subject area because, according to DfE modelling, the existing teachers, returners and “churn” (teachers moving schools) will only make up 50% of those needed. The government uses the Teacher Supply Model and ITT allocations to help recruit potential teachers into training, setting levels that will provide an adequate supply of teachers once those that complete training and enter teaching have been added into the overall mix.

2.5.2 Considering just the trainee numbers, TeachVac’s http://www.teachvac.co.uk data reveals that some subjects have an overabundance of trainee teachers compared with the number needed, some have just enough and some are woefully short.

Analysis of vacancies advertised against trainee numbers as at 21st October 2015 –since start date 1st January 2015

Group ITT Number left % left

21 Oct

% left 13 Nov
Art 534 193 36.24 34
Science 2277 285 12.52 9
English 1689 -84 -5 -9
Mathematics 2186 439 20.08 17
Languages 1105 256 23.17 20
IT 519 -46 -8.86 -11
Design & Technology 450 -161 -35.8  


Business 200 -173 -86.5 -92
RE 385 4 1.17 -4
PE 1271 864 68.02 67
Music 372 36 9.81 5
Social Sciences 113 -96 -84.96 -91
Geography 601 -28 -4.66 -7
History 786 210 26.78 25

Source TeachVac

2.5.3 As a guide, at the end of the recruitment round having + or – 5% of trainees left in a subject or phase within primary still looking for a teaching post would be the aim; a shortage of trainees of between 5% and 10% compared with advertised need would be a challenge and a shortage of more than 10% could be construed as a crisis. This situation can arise either because of issues with the Teacher Supply Model or because insufficient trainees are recruited to meet the number suggested in the Teacher Supply Model.

2.5.4 In some subjects the opposite situation can occur, where the numbers of trainees are too high. Again this may be due to either over-recruitment against identified need from the Teacher Supply Model or a mis-match between need and reality in the recruitment round.

2.5.5 More than 5% of trainees above need, but less than 10% too many is a warning, more than 10% too many trainees means that there will be a significant number of trainees who will not be able to find a job, anywhere in the country, yet will be saddled with a significant additional student debt.

2.5.6 A quick summary suggests that at the end of December, the following will be the case for 2015 as a result of the numbers trained in 2014/15:

Numbers Crisis – Business Studies, English, IT, design & technology, Social Sciences and possibly Geography

Numbers Challenge – Science, Music, RE

Numbers Correct – Languages, History and Maths (but see later)

Numbers over-supply – PE and Art

Some Crisis subjects are a whole year’s cohort behind, but PE is at least a year’s cohort ahead of itself.

2.5.7 The recruitment round might be considered to cover vacancies for September and January and to follow the calendar year (there are few vacancies advertised for an Easter start). At the current time there are already more vacancies than available trainees in subjects such as English, IT, Design & Technology, Business Studies, Social Science and Geography. Once their contribution to the teaching of humanities was added in to the total, there were insufficient RE trainees and probably insufficient trainees in history. By the end of the recruitment round it seems likely that the sciences (overall) and music will be added to the list. This would leave mathematics, languages, art & design and PE as the only subjects where trainee numbers will have been sufficient across the whole recruitment round.

2.5.8 It seems likely that had the government not increased employer pension and National Insurance contributions in 2015 then the number of vacancies on offer might have been even greater since schools would have spent the money on extra staff in some, if not all, cases.

2.6 Crisis of location.

2.6.1 I believe that most trainees tend to look for a job either in their home area or around their training location. This tendency gives rise to a potential crisis of location if the distribution of training places does not reflect local needs. As the geographical allocation numbers were not published by the DfE in the past, it has been very difficult to ascribe the term challenge or crisis to any subjects. The exception is Mathematics where there is widespread anecdotal evidence of shortages yet the overall numbers look satisfactory. On that basis it might seem as if Mathematics has a “location crisis” in some areas.

2.6.2 An analysis of the published vacancies for entry level teaching posts tracked by TeachVac between January 2015 and mid-October 2015 suggests that there are marked regional differences in the average number of advertisements placed for such posts by schools in different regions of England.

Average number of jobs advertised per school

North East North West Yorkshire & the Humber East Midlands West Midlands London East of England South West South East
4.56 4.37 4.92 5.21 4.46 7.15 6.97 4.36 5.98
Source TeachVac                

2.6.3 The vacancies counted by TeachVac include those posted by both state-funded and private schools. It is noticeable that London, despite the presence of Teach First, has recorded the largest number of vacancies per schools with the East of England and the counties closest to London within that region a close second. There are issues with individual schools in areas such as coastal locations, but these have not been sufficient to affect the regional average.

2.7 Crisis of quality.

2.7.1 Quality is a very subjective area and yet everyone can see the difference between good and poor quality.

2.7.2 For trainees, there are two further aspects. Firstly, if there are too few applicants, then there is little opportunity to select the ‘best’ candidates. This can be measured by the application to training place ratio. From a measurement point we could say that between three applicants per place and two applicants per place would be a challenge and fewer than two applicants per place would be a crisis. The second trainee measure is that of completion – poor trainees will be less likely to complete their course and enter teaching. This issue can be exacerbated by the funding methodology used by the government and, this year, by the recruitment controls methodology.

3 Leadership Vacancies this section was omitted from the talk

3.1 Since the abolition of a compulsory qualification for headship – the NPQH – it has been difficult to know objectively, in advance, whether the number of aspiring head teachers meets the likely demand. Now that the bulge in retirement numbers has passed, the demand for head teachers should have returned to a figure more in line with long-term demand. However, a number of factors, including the creation of new schools such as Free Schools, UTCs, Studio Schools and new academies, as well as Executive Heads of multi-academy trusts, has probably increased the demand for head teachers to a level above the long-term trend, especially in the secondary sector.

3.2 Over the past quarter century, a number of factors have affected the labour market for new head teachers. Faith schools, and especially Roman Catholic schools within that group of schools, have consistently found it more of a challenge to recruit new head teachers than community schools. This may have been partly a reflection of the changing nature of society in England.

3.3 More generally, any school that has one or more factors from the following list may have experienced greater difficulty in recruiting a school leader;

  • size – both very small and very large;
  • limited age range – infant, junior or middle compared with primary or secondary;
  • single sex schools;
  • limited section of the ability range;
  • some specific types of special schools where relocation is necessary due to the small number of such schools;
  • time of year vacancy occurs if outside the key January to March period;
  • unusually low salary;
  • performance, especially on Ofsted inspections but also in examination or key stage results.

3.4 Finally, geography can play a part. In regions where house prices are higher than average this may restrict the number of applicants willing to move into the area but permit outward movement from possible candidates for headship. There has also been concern about areas with limited hinterlands such as coastal fringes of England. Areas where there may be limited scope for work for a partner may also be less attractive to potential head teachers. There are exceptions to these rules, but the occasional outstanding new head does not provide a solution to any specific problem.

4 The root causes of the lack of supply of teachers

4.1 Assuming that no issue is taken with the modelling undertaken by the DfE to determine the number of training places and the deterioration of the percentage of teachers teaching a subject that have a post ‘A’ level qualification in the subject they are teaching indicates a lack of supply, then the root causes may be regarded as:

  • Insufficient recruitment into training
  • Undue levels of early departure from the profession
  • A growing school population
  • The development of teaching as an international career and of schooling in the UK as an export industry. Both offer opportunities to teachers that can reduce teacher numbers available for state-funded schools.

5 Action the government could take to tackle teacher shortages

5.1 The government has a considerable body of evidence from previous teacher supply crises to be able to understand what actions they can take that may or may not work to solve any teacher supply crisis, even though they do not directly employ any teachers – at least until the National Teaching Force comes along. There is also evidence on the issues affecting teacher supply from the work of the School Teachers’ Review Body and the research undertake for them by the Office for Manpower Economics in connection with several of their Reports. This body of evidence could enable the DfE to consider the success or otherwise of previous attempts to solve each crisis.

5.2 However, in an age when investment in higher education is the responsibility of the individual, rather than the State, it seems perverse that a large number of individuals should have to bear the cost of their training as a teacher, with the added risk of no guarantee of a job on successful completion of the course. Simple economics suggests that although this may pose less of an issue when the private sector is not hiring graduates, it is an issue when the graduate recruitment market is buoyant, as it was after 1997 when tuition fees were first introduced, and applications from graduates to train as teachers slumped.

5.3 For instance, in 1997–98 some 1,540 of the mathematics teacher training places were filled, but 830 remained un-filled. The following year, the number of unfilled mathematics places increased to 1,080 and the number of those entering teacher preparation courses declined from 1,540 to 1,190. The eventual solution to the recruitment problem was the introduction of the training bursary in 2000.

5.4 The continual changes to the level of bursary funding, and the relative financial attractiveness of different teacher preparation routes, makes for a muddle that may make it more difficult to attract new entrants to teaching, especially when the economy is growing. Teaching cannot be seen just as a safe haven career in times of economic uncertainty if England is to have a world-class teaching profession. Teaching needs to be able to recruit high quality entrants in boom times as well as in times of recession.

5.5 There are other solutions to deal with any shortage of teachers. These include ensuring a better transition from preparation to employment that reduces wastage of qualified entrants. This ought to be easier when schools, as employers, control a greater proportion of the training than providers that do not employ teachers, such as universities.

5.6 At present, the balance of new entrants to other entrants to main scale vacancies is estimated by the DfE at around the 50:50 mark, according to evidence provided in the past by the DfE to the STRB. If there are insufficient new entrants, more could be spent trying to attract other qualified teachers either from those not working or nor currently working full-time or from teachers from either within the EU or elsewhere in the world. The DfE currently has a pilot programme underway for attracting returners in EBacc subjects.

5.7 Should there be insufficient teachers, schools have the option of changing the curriculum offer to reduce time spent on particular subjects – although there will need to be an increase in other subjects if the total time taught doesn’t alter. Re-training of teachers through programmes such as the suggested TeachNext concept and attracting new groups through programmes such as the Troops to Teacher scheme can also help at the margin in dealing with shortages.

5.8 On the demand side, group sizes in schools may be altered, subject to the capacity of classrooms to handle larger groups. The use of new technology to alter the instructional method could have profound implications for the supply and training of teachers in the future. Although wide scale use of the internet has now been around for almost two decades, the impact on teaching and learning in schools is probably very limited in its effects on the model of teacher-pupil interaction.

6 The Future of teacher supply up to 2020 and beyond

6.1 The key driver of teacher supply issues during this Parliament will be the increase in pupil numbers. The primary school population started increasing some years ago, and will continue to increase through the life of this parliament. The secondary school population fell nationally through the last Parliament as the effect of a decline in the birth rate during an earlier period worked through the system. However, from a low point in 2015, the secondary school population will increase through the whole of this Parliament and probably most of the next, assuming two fixed term parliaments. By 2023, the STRB estimated, based on DfE evidence, that the secondary school population would be 17% higher in 2023 than in 2014 (25th Report page 29).

6.2 Any reduction in numbers entering training or increase in numbers leaving the profession, for whatever reason, would obviously add additional pressure on teacher supply. In a market based system those schools with the ability either to pay more or to offer a more attractive teaching environment would probably suffer less than schools where teaching was more demanding, pay lower, or the school located in an area where teachers either did not want to live or could not afford to do so.

6.3 Teaching has become an increasingly feminised profession in both the secondary and primary sectors. Although the percentage of men entering the primary sector has probably stabilised, fewer men now train as secondary school teachers than a generation ago. The extent of any drive to make graduate careers more widely available to women than in the past could have an impact on the interest shown by women in teaching as a career. Recent data on applications by graduates to train as a teacher has shown a faster decline in applications from women than from men. This has resulted in an overall decrease in applications of several thousand and a resulting increase in the percentage of applicants accepted onto teacher preparation courses.

7 Conclusion

7.1 The various routes into teaching have been undergoing a fundamental politically driven change from a higher-education based system to a school-led system. This change has occurred as the economy has shifted from recession into a period of growth. It is not yet clear how far the changes in training routes may affect the attractiveness of teaching as a career. Indeed, salary and other associated benefits such as work/life balance and pension arrangements may be of more significance in recruitment into the teaching profession.

7.2 What is certain is that to create a world-class education system, we need not only world-class teachers but sufficient of them in the right places and right subjects with a willingness to become the school leaders of both today and tomorrow.




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